Thousands of people nationwide will celebrate friendship and world peace today in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps.
Exactly four decades ago, stemming from the vision of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps sent its first volunteers on a two-year mission to Africa. Today, over 7,000 international volunteers serve in more than 76 countries.
Since its creation, the program has sent over 161,000 Americans to more than 134 nations around the world, from Paraguay to Papua New Guinea.
After intensive language and cultural training, the program places its volunteers in an international setting for two years in the areas of education, environment, health and nutrition, business, agriculture and community development. Volunteering is meant to serve a practical purpose: Americans learn about other cultures while teaching others about their own.
Cornell boasts a particularly strong history with the program, having sent 476 volunteers to serve in over 93 countries since the Peace Corps was established. The University’s high involvement in the program has several explanations, according to Evan Meyer grad, the on-campus Peace Corps coordinator.
“Cornell has been a strong school for producing Peace Corps volunteers for several reasons,” explained Meyer. “The school’s rigorous academics and high focus on the areas of international development, agriculture, business and economy are all explanations for its high involvement.”
Bradley Parrish ’01, who is currently awaiting his Peace Corps assignment in the area of business advising, explained his decision to become involved in the program.
“As a student in the Agriculture and Life Sciences school and an [Applied Economics and Management] major, I wanted to do something different that would allow me to really use what I had learned here,” he said.
Another student currently in the application process for the program, Karen Holzmann ’00, had similar motivations in applying for the program. “I was looking for something to do after graduating and before I went on to graduate school,” said Holzmann. “I want to go into veterinary medicine, and doing something wildlife-related overseas would provide me with experience that I couldn’t possibly get over here.”
An agreement on April 30, 1998, between Cornell and the Peace Corps led to the creation of a graduate option that furthered Cornell’s involvement in the program.
The degree program, “Master of Professional Studies in Agriculture with a Peace Corps Option” makes it possible for Cornell students to earn a graduate degree after one year of study and two years of field work in the Peace Corps.
The program’s 40th anniversary will be celebrated nationwide by the sharing of experiences of past volunteers. Meyer, who recently took up the position of on-campus Peace Corps coordinator, shared his own experiences as a volunteer in Guatemala in 1994, emphasizing why he believes the program is worthwhile.
“For me, the cultural experience was amazing,” Meyer said. “Living in and experiencing life in this different town was the experience that made it worthwhile for me. I am grateful for the friendships I made with the people and the ability I gained to see life through their prism.”
When asked if he believes the people he worked with learned as much from him as he did from them, Meyer adopted a modest tone. “Definitely not. It was a great exchange, but I learned far more about life than they did from me. I felt I gave it my all, but I still feel I got a lot more back than I put in,” he said.
An information session on the program will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in 401 Warren. Three students will speak about their volunteer work in Ghana, Chile and Kazakhstan.